Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What's all the Fast about?

And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and encamped against it; and they built forts against it round about.
2 Kings 25:1

This coming Friday is the 13th of month, or in the vernacular, Friday the 13th. For some reason, this date is considered bad luck, but I don’t know why. I suppose I could Wikipedia it, like I do almost everything else (e.g., what is Nelson Mandela’s middle name and what were the names of the Dionne quintuplets. But I’m actually not that interested.

This Friday is also the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, also known as Asarah B’Tevet (the 10th of Tevet) and is, in Jewish tradition, a fast day.

This one I did Wikipedia, even though I actually do know what it’s about.

For those who can’t be bothered to follow the link (and I don’t blame you), Asarah B’Tevet is considered to me a ‘minor fast’ in that it is not a 24 hour fast like Yom Kippur, but merely a dawn to dusk one. This being winter, dawn to dusk is a relatively short time span.

The day (one of five associated with the destruction of our two Holy Temples) commemorates the beginning of the siege of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, on Jerusalem, which started, according to tradition, on this day.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Bablyon
It also commemorates other events that occurred around this date. On the 8th of Tevet, during second Temple times, Ptolemy, king of Egypt, ordered the translation of the Bible from Hebrew to Greek. This seemingly progressive move was considered a tragedy by believing Jews, as one is not supposed to learn the Torah in any language but the holy Hebrew as, in a different language, many of the deeper meanings and connotations might be lost or misconstrued. 70 Torah giants were ordered to translate the books, generating fear that different translations would be made, creating even greater misunderstandings and criticisms. But a miracle occurred, and all 70 translations were, word for word, identical. Still, a tragedy for the Jews, as learning Torah in a different language other than Hebrew ensures loss of meaning on many levels. It also makes assimilation that much easier.

On the 9th day of Tevet, the leader Ezra the Scribe is said to have died. Ezra brought a significant amount of Jews out of the Babylonian exile to return to the Land and build the Second Temple. The dates of death (yartzheit) of many of our great leaders are marked as special dates and as optional fast dates (e.g., Aaron the priest on the 1st of Av, Moshe Rabbenu on the 7th of Adar, and Rachel Imenu on the 11th of Cheshvan).

Our sages, wisely (they aren’t called sages for nothing) decided that instead of implementing three fast days in a row, one day would commemorate all the tragedies.

In addition, in recent times, the Israeli Rabbinate declared the 10th of Tevet as the ‘Day of Kaddish’ for those who died in the Holocaust and the dates of their death are unknown (almost all of them…).

The 10th of Tevet is in direct contrast to that old joke of Jewish holidays being ‘they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat’.
Here, it’s they tried to kill us, they almost succeeded, I can’t eat anything at all.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a very difficult time fasting. I get hungry, I get thirsty, I get a headache, and I get grouchy. And that’s on a regular day of eating. Imagine what I’m like fasting.
But even if I fasted like certain members of the family whose names will not be mentioned who feel GREAT! and ENERGIZED! – for pity’s sake – after a fast, I would like to think that I would still have a hard time fasting on this date (and the other ‘minor fasts’).

I was blessed to be born in a generation in which Israel has always existed; in a time when Jews from all over the world have been streaming back to the Land; in an age when the Land has blossomed and prospered and grown ever more beautiful.

I have been blessed to have lived in Israel since I was old enough to vote.

I have been blessed to have been witness to countless miracles.
It’s hard to mourn a loss, when all around you is a rebirth.

My generation spends a great deal of time remembering, commemorating, memorializing, and learning about the Holocaust. We lost a third of our people, whole communities, and an entire way of life. We teach our children and our grandchildren about that loss. The victims’ grandchildren are now teaching their children and grandchildren. According the Pew Report, 73% of American Jews say that remembering the Holocaust is essential to their sense of Jewishness.

Despite the passage of years, we still mourn the loss.

Both the Babylonian and Roman sieges of Jerusalem led directly the death of hundreds of thousands of people and to the destruction of Jerusalem and our Holy Temple. It led to the loss of our Land and to our exile.
We lost over a third of our people, whole communities, and an entire way of life.
Despite the passage of years, we still mourn the loss of our people, of our Temple, of our Land, of our peoplehood.

The siege of Jerusalem 

Wishing all of Am Yisrael a meaningful fast and praying that the words of the prophet Zechariah are fulfilled quickly and in our time:

Thus say the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth (Av), and the fast of the seventh (Tishrei), and the fast of the tenth (Tevet) shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love truth and peace. (Zechariah 8:19)

quickly and in our time

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